After almost a century of treating the region's mentally ill, Crownsville Hospital Center was set to close yesterday, with the last of its patients being transferred to other state facilities, state health officials said. Now the attention is turning to what will happen to the 1,200-acre campus, which once housed more than a thousand patients.
Nelson Sabatini, Maryland's Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the state will offer to transfer the land to other government agencies, to see if any want to receive all or part of it.
Then, "if nobody wants it, in theory it could be put on the market," he said.
Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said she is seriously considering the property, located off Generals Highway, but has still not decided whether the county should take it over. Meanwhile, she has been inundated with ideas for what should happen to the parcel.
"I'm lobbied virtually anywhere I go about that land," Owens said.
The proposals for the property have run the gamut, she said, from transforming it into a park or college campus to turning it into a veterans' home or affordable housing or a shopping center.
But before Owens decides whether the county should acquire the property, she wants to see the results of two studies on the condition of the campus, which should give officials a sense of what it would cost to fix it up.
Owens said she is already convinced that the site is going to need a lot of work, including asbestos removal.
"We know there is cleanup involved with the site," she said. "I'm just fixated on what it's going to cost."
Some of the buildings may have to be torn down, she said, and some may have to be preserved for historical purposes. The water and sewer systems may need upgrading. And she added: "There may be some things buried there. There could be medical waste. We're going back 75 years, it's hard to know what's there."
Crownsville, founded in 1910 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane, was the state's only psychiatric facility for African Americans. Desegregated in 1962, it once had a patient population as high as 1,300. But with advancements in medicine and with more mentally ill patients being treated in community settings, the hospital's patient population began to dwindle. At the time plans were announced to close the hospital, the population was about 200.
Any discussion of the future of the land will bear in mind its historical significance, Sabatini said. Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that would prohibit the state from ever selling a portion of the land that serves as a cemetery for hundreds of the hospital's patients. And Sabatini vowed that no matter what happens to the rest of the property, "we'll take the appropriate steps to make sure the burial ground is maintained with the dignity and respect it deserves."
Sabatini also said that the non-profit agencies stationed on the hospital grounds "will be able to stay there." And he said the state has an "obligation and a commitment" to protect 550 acres of the property that were acquired two years ago by the Maryland Environmental Trust to avoid development.
On Monday and Tuesday, 32 patients were transferred from Crownsville to the state's other psychiatric hospitals, Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville and Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville. Yesterday, 18 more were to be transferred from Crownsville.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill will be charting the patients' progress as they move to new settings, said Barbara Bellack, the executive director of the Alliance's Maryland chapter. Moves like this can be traumatic for the patients and their families, she said.
"The patients are at a great risk in having to make changes, particularly if they are elderly," she said. "So we're trying to find out how the patients are doing in their new settings."